on 17 July 2002
Initially, I found this album to be a somewhat baffling collection of low-key rock-and-roll songs. Oh, thank goodness for the gift of patience! As I listened a second, then a third time, I slowly got engulfed by the sheer power and variety on display here; already, in his debut album, Costello showed a clear mastery of almost the whole pop/rock lexicon - a vast array of musical styles coalescing to create a sinister, playful, catchy rock-and-roll backdrop that complements Costello's Dylan-esque acid tongue.
'Welcome To The Working Week' is a punky, rousing opener: a hook-filled miniature rock anthem that has inexplicably, and in the fashion of Doctor Who, been crammed into less than one and a half minutes. An awesome, gritty start that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the album. This brief introduction is followed by the equally memorable 'Miracle Man'- A sensational blues floor-stomper that seems to get more and more interesting and enjoyable with each listen. 'No Dancing' starts off with a completely unexpected verse section of booming simplicity, sounding not unlike a Phil Spector hit-gone bad! It then completely changes tempo (and style) for a passionate and clear-cut (both in lyrics and melody) chorus, a sinister minor-drenched middle 8 and a wonderful pounding drop-out of all instruments bar the drums (obviously!). A simple pop song with some unexpected twists; and all the more unforgettable for it! The lyrical simplicity (nonetheless effective) of the opening trio of rockers is suddenly turned around by the album's first filler track, the clunky and more than a little pretentious 'Blame It On Cain' that (compared to the opening tracks) sounds rather dull and straightforward musically. The album quickly redeems itself with the touching, sensitive 'Alison', without a doubt one of his classic songs; a dreamy ballad tinged with down-to-earth melancholia. Just as he starts to regain his swing 'Sneaky Feelings' provides the album with its second (and thankfully last) piece of lightweight filler. Shockingly forgettable.
After the middle lull, the album quickly regains its compusure with a near-flawless selection of meaningful rockers (and more than a few surprises). '(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes' is a sweet, thoughtful rock-and-roller, that shows echoes of his Country roots (The so-called "Honky-Tonk Demo" tracks, included as bonus tracks on this reissue's second disc, show his early attempts at song-writing to be clearly influenced by his country heroes). 'Less Than Zero' was Costello's debut single (backed with 'Alison') but failed to chart; a shame really, considering the power of the song, a fascism allegory with strong spiteful lyrics and some very catchy Police-esque vocal sections ("reh, oooh-re-hep!"). 'Mystery Dance' is musically very straightforward, but has some intesting Dylan-inspired characterisation in the lyrics (and is also a loud, satisfying slice of retro-rock!). 'Pay It Back' is a bouncy, catchy pop song, but is nonetheless a minor track. The final three songs of the original album are the ones that probably most clearly indicate the direction Costello's music would take in future years; powerful, vitriolic exercises in rage and disillusionment. 'I'm Not Angry', from it's thrashy, gob-smacking Hendrix-like intro (with some suitably impressive guitar-work to match), is an unbelievably memorable and catchy (like most of the man's best work) track that summons up potent images of jealousy and betrayal. It also shows another bizarre culture-clash - the all-out distinctive heavy rock of its intro/chorus and the country-tinged middle 8. 'Waiting For The End Of The World' has a fantastic opening riff and vivid, anarchic lyrics that has an enjoyment factor practically through the roof (aided by some extraordinary tempo changes). 'Watching The Detectives' was his first UK top 20 hit, and is a potent, gritty reggae atmosphere piece that pre-dates the reggae-rock of the Police by a clear year! A vivid, raw song that is complemented by a booming, extraordinary band performance (the creepy, watery organ that is put to such good effect on this track would be given a more active role when Costello formed the altogether more solid Attractions soon afterwards). Despite the odd bit of pointless filler (the strength of the rest of the album more than compensates for this anyway) I would definitely say that the original album itself is a 5 star recording - raw, powerful, innovative and unexpected.
The bonus tracks provided on the bonus disc are comprosed of the aforementioned "Honky Tonk Demos" (a selection of production-less acoustic guitar demos recorded in his bedroom!),a few cliched, unessential country doodles; A few rough demos for future tracks that would appear (or not as the case may be) on the his next album, 'This Year's Model' and a few out-takes from the album. Most of these tracks are mere curios, however the songs left off 'My Aim Is True' stand alone as very good songs in their own right (The country-rock mockery of 'Radio Sweetheart', a genuinely great country song, 'Stranger In The House' and, my personal favourite from the bonus tracks, the complex, majestic 'Imagination (Is A Powerful Deciever)'. In summary - five star album, but rather pointless reissue that is only really of interest to die-hard fans - I would recommend the album itself to any uninitiated music fan, unnaquainted with the work of one of Britain's greatest songwriters.
A friend of mine bought this album shortly after its 1977 issue and thereafter collected everything that Elvis Costello released, usually as each item came out. At first, I was fed up of hearing him, but, gradually, he won me over. The size of this reissue is bewildering, given that the original album was barely half an hour long. It came in a low budget package, with Costello backed by American band Clover. The sound was effective, if basic. Costello was no guitar hero, but the album is instead bolstered by superb, yet unintrusive backing vocal harmonies.
The songs are the stars. Costello established a reputation for biting wit, prodding a question at each subject he tackled. Most of the tracks are mid to above average tempo, usually beaty. Though Costello was labelled, like every unfamiliar face at that time, as a punk at first, he clearly wasn't in any existing camp other than that of the songwriter. The most commercial songs here are 'Red Shoes,' the fast 'Mystery Dance' and 'I'm Not Angry,' which features a rare burst of searing guitar. It was the poignant 'Alison,' however, that gained most attention, particularly when Linda Ronstadt covered it.
I disagree with the previous reviewer that 'Blame It On Cain' and 'Sneaky Feelings' are makeweights. There isn't a single track here that deserves dropping. Some people still feel that this is his best album of songs. The bonus tracks rather highlight this, as most aren't on the same plane. 'Watching The Detectives,' the stand-alone single that followed and broke Costello to a wider UK audience, is a notable exception. This album, though, is worth having for the original line-up alone.
on 22 May 2011
I remember in 1977 watching on the local TV news programme, "Granada Reports", another of Tony Wilson's "finds" come ambling on in drainpipes, Buddy Holly-alike specs and after plugging his Fender Jazzmaster into a tiny amp launching into "Alison".
I was mesmerised, and hooked.
I have been since.
I use the word genius sparingly. If McManus isn't then it's a close as it gets. This man along with one other artist - David Byrne - has kept my musical attention from my late teens to (now) my fifties.
And as one other reviewer puts it - My Aim is True is the best debut album by anyone, ever.
I am no mean musician myself; this man is no virtuoso as a musicain/player but the sheer breadth and scale of his musicality is breathtaking
In my top 5 of all time greats and this album remains his best IMHO.
on 13 November 2008
Without doubt in my mind, the original LP is the best debut album of all time - by anyone, ever. It was sparce, exciting, completely out of the blue, lyrically brilliant and contains "Alison". Do you need more? You must be really greedy!
Although the release of 'My aim is true' coincided with the beginnings of punk, apart from the overall attitude this record has little in common with punk. Costello was backed by the American pub-rock band Clover and the overall feel is straight-ahead, basic rock and roll. At the time it was a breath of fresh air from the prog rock, heavy metal and country rock that was around and I bought it straight away after hearing the first single "Less than zero" blasting out of the radio. This song featured the bile of punk but with really interesting words, which didn't necessarily mean a great deal. Many of the other songs on the record also have this anger but are also wonderfully catchy - "Welcome to my working week", "Blame it on Cain", "Sneaky feelings" etc etc.
However, the two stand out tracks were the country-tinged love song "Alison" and the melodic (but still angry) "(The angels want to wear my) Red shoes". These are both great songs that still stand up today and marked Costello out as a real songwriter and not just another spotty Herbert with a guitar. "Alison" was a beautiful, plaintive ballad, which remains one of his best compositions, while "Red shoes" sounds fantastic, with its meaning remaining enigmatic. (Costello had been influenced by the song writing of the Grateful Dead and Little Feat and his first recordings were in this vain but weren't included on the record, although songs like "Imagination is a powerful deceiver" were added to later CD reissues.)
Although Costello's song writing got even better in later years, for me little he did after could compare with the freshness, drive and sheer vigour of this, his debut release.